It was a terrifying time in East Texas when 10 churches were torched and burned to the ground between January and February 2010, leaving an entire community horrified and in shambles, as residents struggled to pick up the pieces.
The real heart of the story, though, isn't the destruction and the intense pain that unfolded, rather it's the heartfelt forgiveness that was freely showered upon the young perpetrators, Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister, as many of the afflicted pushed their anger and anguish to the side.
Consider 2011 court testimony from Pastor David Martin of Pinebrook Baptist Church, one of the 10 churches that was damaged by the arsonists, who were given multiple life sentences for their actions.
Rather than condemn the young men, he appeared in front of them in court to ask for their forgiveness — and to offer them remission for their crimes.
"Young men, I come with a heavy heart this morning … You've been on our hearts and our hearts break for you. I come today to give you hope," Martin told Bourque and McAllister as they sat in front of him donning orange jumpsuits. "I come today to ask you if my church wronged you in any way, forgive us. If we've let you down as Christians in any way, forgive us, because we forgive you."
Watch the incredibly touching video below:
The horrific church torching scenario began in January 2010 in Athens, Texas, when the duo intentionally burned two houses of worship; eight churches were subsequently ignited in the following weeks, sparking fear, frustration and visceral reactions, according to the Associated Press.
Church members began to stand guard around houses of worship, attempting to protect buildings they feared the arsonists might strike next, according to film director Theo Love, whose new documentary titled, "Little Hope Was Arson" tells the complex and emotional story.
It took some time, though, to figure out who was responsible for the crimes.
"While arson was suspected, many people spiritualized the events and thought Satan himself was lighting them on fire," Love told TheBlaze. "Once the arsonists were revealed to be teenagers who had grown up in a local Baptist Church, the community began to reflect on their own role in the fires."
Bourque and McAllister were eventually arrested and pleaded guilty. The tragic tale surrounding their actions and impact on the communities is told through "Little Hope Was Arson."
Love, the son of Christian missionaries, said that he was instantly drawn to the church-burning story when he heard about it, as he saw it as the perfect opportunity "to reflect on the true purpose of the church as a community" through film.
"My first question was, 'What happens to a church when you take away the building?" Love said. "In addition to the twists and turns of this huge arson investigation was a deeper conversation of faith that was waiting to be started."
On the surface, the story is most certainly all gloom, doom and lives ruined, but Love said that there was, more importantly, a powerful lesson about the power of forgiveness and redemption that he said was buried in the ashes.
"When I interviewed pastors and church members, tears streamed down their faces as they relived the horror of watching their churches burn. By all accounts, this was a tragedy," he said. "But something beautiful emerged from the ashes as the communities began to forgive those who had hurt them."
Love told TheBlaze, though, that forgiveness hasn't come as easily for everyone and that, for many, it's still an ongoing process, but that "through grace there is redemption and a Little Hope."
The director shared details about McAllister's story, in particular, shedding some light on personal details that might have led him down a dark path.
Love said that the young man lost his faith before the torching incident after his mother passed away. His father, who was heartbroken, subsequently attempted suicide by hanging, but it was McAllister and his sister who stopped him just in the nick of time.
"Years later, when Daniel was behind bars, it was his father who came and prayed with him," Love said. "When I interviewed Daniel behind the plexi-glass of the prison, he said, 'I saved his life and now he saved mine.'"
You can read more about the young men and their tragic and troubling backstory here.
Considering that the crimes were committed not long ago, Love said that the community is still adapting and working through the forgiveness process as they cope with emotions and struggle through the best way to forge on.
"All of the churches have been rebuilt and most of the pastors were excited to say that they rebuilt bigger and better while the arsonists spend life sentences behind bars," he said.
Love is hoping that "Little Hope Was Arson" helps bring audiences together to discuss the role that churches play in society, while also gaining a deeper understanding of peoples' suffering both within and outside of the church. "Little Hope Was Arson" will be available in select theaters and on demand starting November 21.